VPC Seminar – Trauma Informed Care – Training Sheriffs from South Central Illinois
May 4th, 2017
Why do victims stay? Why do they deny? – Hopefully, in this seminar, you’re able to find something to help you. The moment you walk through that door, what do you need and how can you better assist and understand the dynamics of what this person or family is going through; the fear of staying and what will happen if they leave. These calls are the most dangerous for you because you don’t really know just how bad it might be inside this home.
As a survivor, I’m here to share my experiences in hopes of providing some insight as to what happens to the victims long before you’re ever called to the scene.
As an advocate and mentor I want to share this, but be aware some of it might truly offend you. It’s only to help you understand some of the mentality of the persons you are being called to assist.
I’ve learned about the how & why of my choices in these past 10 years. Tragically like millions it was set in motion by the early distortions and beliefs created by my mother & stepfather. They didn’t raise a child, they terrorized and enslaved to create The Perfect Subservient Victim
My childhood was filled with some of the most grievous actions and terror you could imagine. However, the terror is still the single most contributing factor. My mind still cannot let go of the 24/7 threat of harm, which had been clearly stated by my stepfather within the first few weeks of meeting him. There is no doubt if I didn’t do exactly as instructed all those years, I would’ve died and absolutely no one would’ve cared.
I was his terrorized victim at five when he first threw me on the couch and violently molested me in front of my brother. Then he shoved me to the ground, grabbed a handful of my hair and said; ‘If you say a word, your mom will be angry and you will be taken away’.
I was his kidnapped victim at nine when he called me inside from playing with my brother and sister. He pointed to their bedroom, where I was told to take off my clothes and get into bed with him. As I lay there I could hear the kids still playing outside, but the steel cold in his eyes let me know I had better not make a sound. I don’t know how long it lasted, but Mother walked in when he was trying to put his thing in me; she didn’t do anything. In fact, she yelled at me. He shoved me off of the bed and she growled for me to get to my room. That’s where I had to stay for the night, hungry, alone, scared my mother would send me away. He knew from that moment he could get away with anything. She honestly did not care what he did to me or how he used me.Just two years later I became his actual slave when she purchased him a little brass bell, which no one else in our house was expected to answer but me, even if they were sitting right in front of him.
For twelve long terrorizing years, almost every day was haunted by some act, threat, order or extreme sexual fear. He was very loving towards my mother, never raising his voice to her, and rarely ever intimidating my siblings. She ran the dynamics of our home and could have stopped his actions at any time, but she chose to become part of them and train me to be her family’s caregiver, cook, and housemaid.
I was his target and he made sure I acted as his slave; he would ring his bell for a glass of tea or to begin my night of terror. I grew up without any sense of personal identity, only serving him and all the men and boys he brought over to our house for the late night private parties. He sold ‘special’ time with me at the small local bars, where Mother worked and all their friends hung out. He and Mother took me on their dates; dinner and then the bar for dancing. He would find random men and bring them to our table. At 12 I was drinking whiskey & 7up, so it could easily be passed to Mother. They would encourage me to drink, allow the men to flirt, dance, rub or even take this little girl out to their car.
The use of weapons became so common for me, that by 18 I stood in front of one such threat; ‘Go ahead, do it’. Sometimes I really wished he’d pulled the trigger. My stepfather first threatened me when I was 9 yrs old angry over some mess I hadn’t cleaned up. He pulled out his 12guage, put the shells in it, held it an inch from my face, cocked it, and said; “You are just useless and ugly’. Just a few years later he used the barrel to rape me as he gripped his hand over my mouth to hold me in terror. I could feel my insides ripping apart. I was hoping my brother or sister would walk up the stairs; they were watching our favorite television program just at the bottom of the stairs. He did it to silence me, to take my voice away and keep me from ever objecting against him ever again. I had begged my mother to make him stop coming into my room and watching me shower all the time, but sadly no matter what I did, how many times I ran away; she always brought me back and nothing ever changed -I was simply told if I said anything to anyone ever again, he would blow my head off from the inside out.
They taught me that none of my fear mattered, I wasn’t allowed to cry; I wasn’t allowed to scream; regardless of how much pain he caused. Over the years the parties began including pornography, marijuana, and instructions for whose lap I should sit on or who I should let touch me. When He called at 10pm on Friday night, Mother walked into her bedroom, looking back she said; ‘Have fun’. The later in the morning it got, I was told who was allowed to take me out to the camper on the back of his pick-up. When I got back in the house, most everyone had left, so I was told to clean up the mess. When I wanted to lay down; he came in wanting to hear all the dirty details of my night. If I didn’t respond quietly and exactly how he needed in that moment, he would grab my throat and start squeezing tight, then reach inside my panties.
His threats and beatings were constant, sudden and relentless. As much as our neighbors whispered, as much as the men talked about the ‘child whore’, as much as the classmates pointed and shamed; still nothing ever seemed to affect my mother, my siblings, our neighbors, or any of the many family friends who had seen or who had been privy to what happened.
I was beaten on the street and dragged across the road by my hair in the middle of the day. I was cursed and shamed by my mother, my brother, classmates, teachers, family friends and neighbors. They had a special name for me, they talked about my looks; my rotting skin, my rotting teeth, my weight, even how lazy I was not to get my homework done.
I gave up trying to bathe around 12 yrs old; after he had raped me over the vanity one night and then used his leather strap to beat me as he threw me onto a pile of dirty laundry. For the next five years I barely wiped off with a wash clothe, so the dirt caked around my wrists, ankles, knees. I began to break out in this rash which I scratched at each night as I lay there waiting for him to come stalking in like a lion after his prey. He would creep in silently, then suddenly his hand would grasp over my mouth and he held me there, not able to make a sound as my little sister slept right next to me.
Around 13/14 I rarely smiled, as shame and fear needed to cover up the four broken black fanged front teeth. I was never given a toothbrush or toothpaste, never taken to a dentist or taught how to care for myself at all. I actually tried using rolled up little pieces of bread to use as fillings but there was just no base of the tooth to hold them in place.
The kids at school mocked and whispered, teachers avoided contact, and the neighbors and local police just talked about what an evil man my stepfather was and how mean he got on the whiskey, but not a single person ever asked me if I was alright or if I needed some kind of help. I was trapped to live with them, she was my mother and they hadn’t permitted any contact with my father or his family since they got married. There was no place I could hide and no way to escape what was my brutal early life.
The child who walked inside the shell of my body felt everything but had to bury it all and not shed a tear no matter how afraid or how bad the pain. Drugs and alcohol were a major part of how he got me to interact and entice the other boys and men; it became my coping skill. A way for me to get through my life; I could empty myself of the pain and pretend to be ‘normal’.
At 17 my stepfather talked of putting me on a country lot by myself where he could have his own key and bring his ‘buddies’ out to party anytime he wanted. I knew what he wanted to do and I knew I had to get out. My escape came in the form of a 25 yr old man who’d recently split with his longtime girlfriend- within weeks I left my parents with a determination never to return.
Lance was my first love but he was not at all safe. His manipulation started early, to keep me inside without any friends or ability to associate unless he was right there. He constantly got angry over how I looked and my face was smashed against the mirror; ‘You are so ugly, look at you. You’re lucky I let you live here’. He locked me inside the 2nd floor apartment while he was gone to work, sometimes tieing me up and leaving me there through the night. Other times he would come home drunk and yank me out of bed by my hair, drag me to the bathroom and try to drown me in the tub of running water. He beat me beyond my own recognition and threw me around like a rag doll. My head was smashed into every solid surface you could imagine, including a huge tree slab stored on the bedroom floor. We lived above a hair salon, but it didn’t stop or change the time of day or the level of rage that exploded in our home. His family and friends witnessed times he strangled me or through me against the wall. Often they said – You shouldn’t get him so upset’. Well, I was sleeping when he woke me tapping my forehead with a shotgun, then holding me cornered and naked at three in the morning; no way to escape, no way to call for help, no one who would care if I did. I hadn’t done anything, and he always came back with a tearful apology.
I stayed for two years, despite all he did, because I didn’t want to go back to my parents and I just didn’t know what else I would do. I wasn’t allowed to work or have my own money, so I was completely at his mercy for the most basic needs. Unfortunately, it was meant going back as an adult; protecting myself as best I could or die. My stepfather wasn’t able to attack me as he once did, but he constantly intimidated me every chance he got until I was 40 years old.
The next abuser became my husband and father of my children; we were in love and he seemed perfect, but then we got his orders to go to England. He wasn’t much of a physical abuser, he was an emotional and mental manipulator. He made sure that I always remembered how grateful I should be that someone like him actually wanted to be with me. He constantly let me know that I would never be good enough and I was nothing more than his own private whore, that was the pillow talk in our bedroom. My heart longed for love and I had done everything I could to meet his ambitious military expectations of home and family; although I didn’t have much of an example to go from. I could only go with my idea of how I should be and the person I felt I was inside; the mother I wanted to be for my children. Still, the perfect subservient victim never objected and cried silently in her pillow wondering why she was always so alone and never worthy of anyone’s true kindness.
Because we had three kids together I wanted this family and marriage to work. He had many good qualities, even encouraged me to finish school; I stayed. After 4 years abroad, separation, my first nervous breakdown and failed suicide attempt; suddenly I get a call at work and our third child; he had packed up everything we owned and ran away with my children while I was at work. His sole purpose for taking them; because it was the only thing he could do that would truly hurt me. It crushed me
After picking myself up and getting a little bit of money; I took the only basket of clothing he’d left me and rented a Uhaul to get to Pennsylvania, chasing him down with a determination to get my children back. Arriving in an area, I’d never been in before, completely alone, with a total of 35.00 in my pocket. It took a lot of hard work but I built a life there and started to feel that I could actually survive and at least be able to see my kids. I fought him and his rich family constantly for any contact and then I started seeing bruises and bloody noses. He was hitting them but had them believing if they hadn’t done this or that, then they wouldn’t have gotten hit. Each time I saw them, they were changing; not my happy children any longer, but sad and afraid. I did not know who to turn to or where to go, I didn’t want to call the police on him and I didn’t actually see what had happened; I continued to fight; he ran again before they would come back to live with me their innocence and childhood were completely erased.
It only took six months after losing my children, moving to a new area, feeling alone and fighting to see them; that I quickly fell for my next abuser. I should have expected it when things began to change just two months into the relationship. During an argument, he grabbed me around the throat and threw me to the floor. As he was squeezing harder around my neck all I could think of was – Here we go again – Just kill me and get it over with- I was 28 yrs old. A part of me felt I deserved what I was getting because of the pain my kids were going through and somehow I had caused their dad to explode on them, run with them. I felt I deserved it because that’s how it had always been and every person I had ever had contact with had attacked me in some form. ‘Why should this be any different’. It progressed slowly; he would threaten to leave me alone. Then he would slam my head against a wall every couple of days, then bash my back over a hot stove or the bannister outside of my children’s bedrooms.
He got along great with my kids, he played with them, talked to them, even asked his father to purchase us a house when they came to live with us. When he was good he was fabulous, but when the alcohol and the behavior he watched in his father erupted during dinner at least two or three times a week; I was such a perfectly trained victim that I tolerated it all and never called for help. I calmed my children time and again; that bloody lip is nothing; that bruised up eye is nothing. I didn’t realize the deep sense of fear his violence towards me was causing inside my children. We are still working to heal their wounds and their memories of the threats and the violence they watched explode over and over again; the trauma and the fear that caused them to hide in the closets and bury themselves in the covers at night.
I’ll never forget how hard it was to leave him; to take what little possessions I could and walk out the door to find a place that my children and I could live. They needed to stay in the same school system. They needed their friends and I needed to find a job that paid enough to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I didn’t have but one close friend, and thankfully she was there completely those first few months, but then it was just us and I had to keep us going. My life skills were pretty distorted and the injuries Matthew had left me with still seriously impact simple daily living today, in fact, they’ve gotten much worse. To say the least, I was a shattered soul with many wounds I had to ignore because it was simply about surviving and giving my kids a SAFE NORMAL LIFE.
This is a horribly frightening situation to be in and takes great courage to make that final choice to leave, to gather what little you can and try to start over without the slightest clue where to turn for help. Hopefully, they make that choice to never accept another act of harm against them or that dreaded fear to invade their children’s lives.
Most often family and neighbors will not make a call for help until it’s too late and someone is seriously injured or maybe killed. By the time you receive a call the victim, be they child, man or woman; will be terrified of what happens if they actually say something or you take this person away. Where will they go and how will they ever be able to take care of themselves, their children, or even their pet? What happens when he/she gets out of jail? How violent, threatening, stalking and maybe murderess might they become?
A child has no idea about walking through the system or even surviving without their parents; they’ve probably heard the threats, the verbal control and the dominance that is their environment for years before you ever see them. More than likely they might be having behavioral outbursts at school or when playing with other kids. Chances are they don’t realize it’s actually wrong, they are simply always afraid and have no clue how to associate in the typical social setting.
An adult probably has some kind of history in either watching violence and control, addiction or erupting mental illness in their lived chaotic or maybe terroristic childhood experiences. Maybe they have learned or been manipulated and broken down piece by piece by the person they actually fell in love with, keeping them in this quietly controlled behavioral pattern since early on in their relationship. We might never know just how extreme the threats and mental distortions are before an outsider finally gets involved.
Changing means changing everything that is ‘normal’, the learned acceptance of these offenses. Change will have to involve a great many life skills with a strong supportive network. It will have to include everyone; our friends, neighbors, schools, medical providers, and our law enforcement. Change is something we have to begin with a single first step. As officers, you might be the first one to see the control and fear before it becomes a deadly situation or a lifetime behavior.
I’m so glad to see all the work being done to educate and provide help in ways that we have not done throughout human history. The VPC has been crucial in helping me to stay involved and stay informed; to trust myself and my voice in helping others see just how trained in this tolerance of harm we have become and all that circles inside these types of homes with economic distress, addiction, and distorted behavioral beliefs. The end of this year makes twenty years since I first took that step to end any type of harm to invade our lives again, and even though I’ve worked through the worst of the panic and trauma; a part of me and the reflection I see in that vanity mirror – still carries that deep sense of fear inside.
You can help them believe that no matter what has been happening or what their abuser has told them; no matter what they might believe is easier to handle -this is not a place for any person or child to endure. This causes a lifetime of trauma and learned tolerances, a sense of shame, and a desperate need to bury our pain; maybe even die.
You can help them believe people will care, that they don’t have to do this alone. There are organizations and advocates who will help them, but it’s not an easy path to go through. This learned behavior of accepting harm, or committing harm, is the most dangerous place in the world for them. It might be a challenging path, but they need to believe they can survive; live a life without harm or threat of harm.
For me, it’s been a life filled with trauma & terror leaving me permanently injured. Now regardless of how happy, SAFE, and loved I am today, there are many lasting effects from those horrifying and terrorizing 37 years of rape, violence, trafficking, and the never-ending sense of fear. These wounds, the friends & colleagues I’ve made these last seven years; they’ve all inspired a strong voice and spirit for the wellbeing of others, a right to be safe. There are many things I’m still repairing within myself, including the distorted and negative identity. For every victim you may be called to help, please remember a positive first response from you could be the very beginning of a new way of life for them.